Personal Essay | Libby Keller
Personal Essay | Libby Keller
Until I met Adam I never felt bad about purging.
Until I met Adam, throwing up three or four times a day was no big deal.
Until I met Adam, I didn’t realize how painful bulimia was.
My stomach would cramp and my digestion was messed up. My esophagus could be sore for hours or days.
But even when the skin on the back of my throat started to thin and tear I didn’t stop. Even when I started seeing blood in my vomit I kept going.
It started in early March 2015. It was one of the worst quarters of my college career, and definitely the worst since I’d transferred to Western Washington University.
My grade in advanced reporting, one of the last classes in my major, was dropping because a story had fallen through. My job as news editor for the campus paper kept me up past midnight nearly every night and I was still struggling to keep up.
I was overwhelmed and I began resenting myself for not being able to make things better. My self-esteem was drained, and with no other outlets I fixated on my appearance.
All I saw was fat—on my neck, on my stomach, on my legs—it was everywhere. I ate because I had to, but I was disgusted with myself.
I couldn’t get rid of the class, I couldn’t get rid of work, but I could at least get rid of the food.
So I did.
I started ducking out after dinner on production nights so I could purge. I stayed in the bathroom as long as I could without making the others suspicious.
For about two months it went on, just once or twice a week at first. But as the stress got worse, so did the purging, and soon I was doing it whenever I could find an empty bathroom.
All I wanted was to hate myself a little less.
This loss of control wasn’t entirely new. I began struggling with eating disorders when I was 15 and developed anorexia.
I grew up constantly overeating and hating myself for being overweight. So when a prescription migraine medication took away my appetite, it didn’t take long for me to get addicted to the feeling.
For three months I dropped weight like crazy. It didn’t matter when my parents took me off the medication, I finally felt like I was worth something.
Days would pass when I only let myself sip a cup of Snapple and chew a piece of gum. I was weak mentally and physically. I could barely make it through a day of school. I couldn’t retain any body heat and my hair started thinning.
But worst of all, I didn’t care whether I lived or died.
I lost 57 pounds before I collapsed in the kitchen one morning. My mom drove me to the hospital the next day.
That was where I spent my 16th birthday. Every morning I had a needle jabbed in my arm to test my blood. Almost every night I woke to my heart monitor alarm going off when my pulse dipped below 50 beats per minute.
I spent 10 days being treated for malnutrition and dehydration. The doctors kept my bathroom door locked so I wouldn’t purge. They kept the sink covered for the same reason.
But during those 10 days, during the tears and pain that came with having to eat again, I realized something.
I didn’t want to die.
I wanted to see my family smile again, I wanted to graduate high school and go to college, I wanted to live the life I almost let go.
So for almost five years I fought. I had some other relapses along the way but I always told myself I’d never resort to bulimia.
But during spring quarter 2015, I stopped caring.
I was miserable and felt like a failure. I never stopped loving my family but I was supposed to be building my own life at Western, and at that point I just felt alone.
That was part of what convinced me to give online dating a try in April. I’d never done it before, but I’d never been bulimic before either, so what did I have to lose?
I spent about two weeks chatting with people and ignoring random messages for booty calls before I got a message from a user named ModestFlea.
He described himself as a calm person with mediocre social skills. But I found him to be energetic and charming. He made me laugh, made me think and made me happy.
Before long I started looking forward to our conversations more than I worried about my next purge, and after I met Adam in person that feeling only grew.
I’m not sure how to describe what happened after that, just that I came back to life.
We went blues dancing, we watched nerdy movies and drank wine and we stayed up until 5 a.m. talking about our childhoods.
For the second time I realized I didn’t want to die.
I didn’t want to die so I could surprise Adam when he got off work. I wanted to eat gelato on the beach with him and climb a tree to watch the sunset. I wanted to laugh and smile and be with him.
After that it wasn’t hard to stop purging. I didn’t want to lose everything I’d worked for and I didn’t want to lose Adam.
I made it through the rest of the quarter, passed advanced reporting and walked away from the newspaper feeling proud.
The aches went away, the sores on the back of my throat healed but I’ll never forget what I went through that quarter. It made me stronger and I never want to go back.
Until I met Adam I was on track to destroy my body and my life.
But I’m not done living.
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